Fake News and Half Truths Pose Real Threat for Brands

Despite the end of election season, brands continue to find themselves at the center of political controversy. While Tic Tac and Skittles were dragged into the discussion arbitrarily, New Balance and Pepsi recently attracted unwanted attention after out-of-context and fake quotes were widely circulated. This latest series of events also calls into question whether there is any “safe” way for brands to participate in the political dialogue.
For New Balance, the controversy began when the company’s VP of Public Affairs was quoted, “The Obama admin turned a deaf ear to us & frankly w/ Pres-Elect Trump we feel things are going to move in the right direction.” A spokesperson for New Balance quickly clarified that this statement only referred to Trump’s position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
But it was too late. The brand’s association as “pro-Trump” sparked massive outrage. The New Balance boycott went so far as to label the shoe company as “the shoes of white supremacists.” On Thursday November 17th, Twitter was flooded with images of people throwing out and burning their New Balance sneakers in protest.

By November 17th conversation sentiment surrounding New Balance was 78% negative (11% more negative than for Donald Trump himself), a 75% increase in negative sentiment. At the same time, conversation volume rose 100% for New Balance, making this the most talked about event of the year for the brand.
As New Balance shifted into damage control mode, Reebok adopted a conquesting strategy to capitalize on the story by giving away free shoes to protesters. This strategy allowed Reebok managed to more than double their conversation volume within this short time period while maintaining mostly positive sentiment for their brand.


While anti-Trump supporters boycotted New Balance over a quote taken out of context, pro-Trump supporters threatened to boycott Pepsi over a fabricated statement. Rumors surfaced that Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi told Trump supporters to “take their business elsewhere.”

Pepsi quickly clarified that Nooyi had only reiterated her employee’s concern over Trump’s campaign rhetoric. But again, the damage had already been done, as positive sentiment for the Pepsi brand dropped from 72% to only 4.5%. In tandem with this sentiment shift, conversation volume spiked, with online conversation surrounding the brand increasing by 50%. In this case too, these massive shifts happened essentially overnight.

As we see with New Balance and Pepsi, the danger of false and misleading quotes makes it difficult for corporations to engage at all in serious political discussion. Once these massive wildfires have been triggered, brands seemingly have no recourse other than to let them burn down. To discover and track the impact of real-time trends for yourself, visit our Trend Pulse Tool.

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